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In trial, reggae star says he lied about drug deals

TAMPA — He was a reggae icon who toured extensively throughout Europe and was considered the “voice of Jamaica.”

The other man was noticeably overweight and ran a frozen seafood business.

Yet reggae star Buju Banton felt the need to impress Alexander Johnson with talk of elaborate, million-dollar drug deals stretching the continents.

In the end it was all a lie, Banton said, a rivalry for superiority.

“I was trying to impress this guy. I wasn’t going to let him outtalk me,” the musician told jurors during testimony in the third day of his federal drug trafficking trial Wednesday. “That’s what got me into this hot seat.”

Johnson was a government informer who taped conversations with Banton discussing a variety of drug deals over five months, including shipping cocaine from Panama to Europe in crates with seafood. The informer was paid $50,000 in this case, according to testimony.

David Markus, Banton’s defense attorney, painted a picture of Johnson as an aggressor who pursued Banton with phone calls and the illusion of friendship. Johnson would bring up cocaine and discuss how the men could do business together.

Markus pointed to a meeting at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant in July 2009 when Johnson brought up cocaine after having a two-hour meeting with Banton. The reggae star asked Johnson if he had any drug connections.

Banton said he wasn’t taking the conversation seriously.

“I was just talking straight up garbage,” Banton said to jurors. “I liked hanging out with Mr. Johnson. He could talk all he wanted to talk, but I wasn’t going to engage in it.”

Banton said the informer also misled him on occasion. On Dec. 8, Banton traveled to Sarasota to see Johnson, who had explained they would be looking at his boat. The men ended up instead at a warehouse where an undercover police officer presented the men with a kilo of cocaine.

“I didn’t know I was going to see any drugs,” Banton said. “And if I had known I was going to see drugs, I wouldn’t have gone.”

In the end, Ian Thomas, an associate of Banton’s, agreed to do a drug deal with Johnson for 11 pounds of cocaine. Thomas has since taken a plea deal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston challenged Banton’s argument.

“How does someone naive know the prices of cocaine in different parts of the world?” Preston asked, citing taped conversations where Banton quoted prices for cocaine.

At one point, Banton’s voice rose. “If I was a drug dealer, I would’ve taken the plea bargain you offered to me,” he said to the prosecutor. “But I’m taking a public flogging because I believe the truth must come out.”

Stephen Marley, son of reggae legend Bob Marley, took the stand as a character witness for Banton, calling the acclaimed singer “the voice of the people.”

Both grew up in Jamaica and have collaborated on music. Marley said he has known Banton for 20 years.

Markus asked Marley if he ever heard Banton discuss drugs.

“No, no,” Marley said. “Never.”

3 Responses to BUJU

  • BRITlitez says:

    hope and pray, hope and pray, god shine the light, buju way.prayinnnnnnn.

  • MILAN says:

    mi feel fi cry fi him u see :(….i hope all jamaicans on a whole and not only our artists learn a valuable lesson from buju’s mistake. i pray to God he goes home to the ppl dat love him. #freebuju

  • i believe buju bantan is innocent . like stephen marley said , he has known bantan for 20 years and he has never heard of buju talkking about selling drugs . why should he , he is an internationalreggae icon , a multimillionaire . he has money so it does not make any sense to me . it looks like a case of entrapment . bantan will be vindicated when this whole nightmare is over . my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends especially his best friend and my favorite artist stephen marley .

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